Alleged Pentagon leaker Jack Douglas Teixeira is no whistleblower. But did he blow up Ukraine’s war effort?


The FBI on Thursday arrested Jack Douglas Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the U.S. Air National Guard, over the leaks online of classified documents that embarrassed Washington with allies around the world.

Federal agents in an armored car and military gear swooped in on Teixeira, dressed in gym shorts, a T-shirt, and trainers, at his home in Dighton, Massachusetts, a mostly wooded town of 8,000 about 50 miles (80 km) south of Boston.

The arrest comes a week after the leaks first became widely known, setting Washington on edge about the damage they may have caused. The episode embarrassed the U.S. by revealing its spying on allies and purported Ukrainian military vulnerabilities.

The leak of documents, posted largely on social media sites, was believed to be the most serious security breach since more than 700,000 documents, videos, and diplomatic cables appeared on the WikiLeaks website in 2010.

Teixeira was an airman 1st class at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, according to his service record. He joined the Air National Guard in 2019 and worked as a "Cyber Transport Systems Journeyman," or an IT specialist.

Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters Teixeira was wanted "in connection with an investigation into alleged unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified national defense information."

The FBI said its agents had conducted "authorized law enforcement activity at a residence in North Dighton, Massachusetts."

Aerial news video showed Teixeira with his hands laced behind his head, walking backward toward the armored car with one officer watching from the turret. He was handcuffed and placed in the back of the vehicle. Garland said he was taken into custody "without incident."


The Justice Department did not say what charges Teixeira would face, although they will likely involve criminal charges of willfully retaining and transmitting national defense information.

Brandon Van Grack, a former Justice Department national security prosecutor now with the law firm Morrison Foerster, said the likely charges could carry up to 10 years imprisonment, even if Teixeira did not intend to cause harm.

"This is someone who is facing on the higher end of exposure for years in prison ... because the leaks were so damaging," Van Grack said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement a Pentagon task force had been "working around the clock to assess and mitigate any damage." Teixeira was expected to appear in court on Friday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston said.

A police road block on the way to the house where Teixeira was arrested kept neighbors away from their homes. One was Dick Treacy, who said he saw officers arriving as he left to go shopping in the early afternoon.

"There were about six to eight army guys with rifles walking around," Treacy said. "This is a very quiet area."

Eddy Souza, 22, said he grew up nearby and that he knew Jack Teixeira when both attended Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School several years ago.

Souza said Teixeira had expressed no extremist sentiments when they were last in touch several years ago.

"He's a good kid, not a troublemaker, just a quiet guy," Souza said. "It sounds like it was a stupid kid's mistake."


Although the leak only garnered widespread attention after an April 6 story in the New York Times, journalists have found evidence that the documents – or at least some of them – had been floating around on social media as far back as March or even January.

Bellingcat, the Washington Post and The New York Times have traced the documents' earliest appearance to a defunct server on the instant messaging site Discord. In a chat group on the site, Teixeira went by the handle OG and was admired by the group's mostly young members, who shared a love for guns and military gear.

The Justice Department opened a formal criminal probe last week, after a referral from the Defense Department, which called the leak a "deliberate, criminal act."

Reuters has reviewed more than 50 of the documents, labeled "Secret" and "Top Secret" but has not independently verified their authenticity. The number of documents leaked is likely to be over 100.

A number of countries have questioned the veracity of some of the leaked documents, including Britain, which said there was "a serious level of inaccuracy" in the information.

The leaks revealed information about allies including Israel, South Korea, and Turkey.

U.S. officials believe most of the materials are genuine. Some, however, appear to have been altered to show inflated estimates for Ukrainian battlefield casualties in the war with Russia as well as understated numbers for Russian forces.

From what we know so far, Jack Douglas Teixeira is no Chelsea Manning.

But the classified U.S. military intelligence he allegedly leaked could have even more impact on the Ukrainian battlefield and in diplomatic circles than the files for which Manning, a junior intelligence analyst in Iraq, was convicted of releasing to the world through WikiLeaks.

He’s not Edward Snowden either.

The criminal case against Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the U.S. Air Force National Guard in Massachusetts, appears to have none of the ethical underpinnings or digital sophistication that were the hallmarks of the Snowden affair, in which files stolen from the National Security Agency were released to expose the activities of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Nor are there any indications that whoever was behind the leaked Pentagon documents took the sort of evasive measures that Snowden — now a Russian citizen and Moscow resident — took to avoid detection, arrest, and capture.

The charges against Teixeira have not been tested in a courtroom, but what we have here, at least on first read, looks more like a case of boasting and bravado by a youngish American serviceman to younger, impressionable members of an online community united by their shared love of videogames.

It appears the documents were posted online in an attempt to impress, rather than to hinder an unjust cause or shame the world’s most powerful army into changing its ways.

The photos of secret documents and other pieces of diplomatic and military information that Teixeira is alleged to have posted online are real-time sensitive — not harmful merely in retrospect, not just potentially harmful for future conflicts, not simply embarrassing.

This Pentagon leak deals with in-the-works plans for the war in Ukraine, where a broad and, at times, an unwieldy alliance of Western nations is coordinating military support in the fight against Russia as best they can.

One document from February revealed that Ukraine’s air defenses could be out of missiles within the month if their munition stocks haven’t already been depleted. Others have revealed just how deeply embedded American spy agencies are in the administrations of allies (Israel, South Korea, Ukraine) as well as enemies (Russia, China).

Perhaps the most strategically damaging detail that has emerged is the timetable for Ukraine’s long-awaited spring counteroffensive. According to one document, that effort to push Russian forces back toward their own country was to have begun on April 30 with 12 Ukrainian brigades.

You don’t need to be a general to know that the element of surprise is one of the keys to military success. And it doesn’t take a tactician to recognize that Ukraine, the U.S. and all the others involved in the country’s defense are now scrambling to come up with new war plans on the fly, as the muddy Ukrainian soil firms up enough to facilitate the rapid movement of tanks and troops.

The United States has a long history of dissidents going public with top-secret information for purposes that the leakers feel outstrips their professional oaths to secrecy.

Daniel Ellsberg made that calculation in 1971 when he leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, saying that the U.S. government was hiding the extent of its nefarious activities during the Vietnam War.

A few years later, “Deep Throat” — later revealed to be Mark Felt, then-associate director of the FBI — went to the Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post to reveal that the political rot exposed in the break-in at the Watergate Hotel went right to the top of Richard Nixon’s White House.

U.S. Department of Defense Press Secretary Gen. Patrick S. Ryder speaks at a press conference at the Pentagon on April 13, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. Ryder spoke on the investigation of classified Department of Defense documents that were leaked on the internet.

Contrast Felt and Ellsberg with suspect Teixeira, who the Times reported was known to his online pals as “O.G.” on a private social-media group dubbed Thug Shaker Central where members “came together over a shared love of guns, racist online memes” and videogames.

The Post, which interviewed one of the teenage members of the group, said that O.G. initially wrote up the contents of the classified material and shared it with other members, but felt that his audience was not sufficiently appreciative of the material being presented to them.

The leaker then began posting photos of the documents to the group. Among them, the Post reported were satellite imagery from the battlefield in Ukraine and close-up spy-plane photos of the Chinese spy balloon that was discovered floating across North America earlier this year.

Those posts — reportedly hundreds of them — to a closed group of about 30 individuals from around the world eventually popped up on other, more popular, less exclusive social-media platforms. They’re now circulating on Telegram and Twitter, so millions around the world can get a sneak peek into the world of American intelligence.

There are already calls, in the wake of Teixeira’s arrest, to review and further restrict the number of those who can receive, read and transmit military secrets with the power to turn the tide of an active war.

On the basis of the facts that have emerged to date, this would seem like a prudent course of action — and the bare minimum.

Yet the impacts of these leaked documents may never be fully known. They could emerge months from now. It’s also possible that the biggest, most damaging secrets are still to come.

Eighty years ago, the U.S. Office of War Information coined the famous phrase, “Loose lips might sink ships.”

In the absence of a principled justification for such a damaging leak, it would seem time for that all-American slogan to be refreshed for the modern age, as a reminder to those who should know better than online photos can carry lethal, real-world risks.

Who leaked them and why?

Federal agents have arrested the suspected leaker, Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old technology staffer with the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s Intelligence Wing, for “unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified national defense information,” according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that according to members of the small invitation-only Discord chat community where the leaked intel first appeared, the person who posted them was a ‘charismatic gun enthusiast’ in his early 20s who created the group and apparently worked on a U.S. military base and somehow had access the documents. Neither the Discord group members nor the Post confirmed the name of the person, but the New York Times later reported that the Discord user who founded the group was Teixeira.

Teixeira reportedly serves in the U.S. Air Force’s 102nd Intelligence Wing, of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, which is based out of Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod. He was arrested Thursday afternoon without incident outside his mother’s home in North Dighton, Massachusetts.

The Associated Press has more on why Teixeira may have had access to the documents:

Teixeira was a “cyber transport systems specialist,” essentially an IT specialist responsible for military communications networks, including their cabling and hubs. In that role Teixeira would have had a higher level of security clearance because he would have also been tasked with responsibility for ensuring protection for the networks, a defense official told the Associated Press, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

The Post adds that Teixeira had access to the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, an internal Defense Department hub for top secret information, according to a U.S. official.

Members of the private Discord group told the Post the leaker, who they referred to as “OG,” shared hundreds of posts revealing government secrets over a period of months, initially transcriptions of classified intel he’d read and retyped, and then eventually photographs of the original documents:

OG told the group he toiled for hours writing up the classified documents to share with his companions in the Discord server he controlled. The gathering spot had been a pandemic refuge, particularly for teen gamers locked in their houses and cut off from their real-world friends. The members swapped memes, offensive jokes and idle chitchat. They watched movies together, joked around and prayed. But OG also lectured them about world affairs and secretive government operations. He wanted to “keep us in the loop,” the member said, and seemed to think that his insider knowledge would offer the others protection from the troubled world around them. …

OG had a dark view of the government. The young member said he spoke of the United States, and particularly law enforcement and the intelligence community, as a sinister force that sought to suppress its citizens and keep them in the dark. He ranted about “government overreach.”

But Group members have also told reporters that the leak seemed more motivated by bravado than anything else. One of Teixeira’s handles in the group was “jackthedripper.”

What are the documents, and how many were leaked?

The Post, in it’s report on the source of the leaks, said it “reviewed approximately 300 photos of classified documents” as well as text posts which apparently transcribe other intelligence reports.

Most analysts and news organizations have been referring to more than 100 pages of documents in the leak. From the Post’s reporting, it appears much more material than that was originally leaked, though only a portion has since been made public more widely.

The surfaced files are photographs of briefing documents and slides, mostly prepared in February and March, based on intel collected by the NSA, CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, DEA, and National Reconnaissance Office (which manages U.S. spy satellites). Markings on the documents indicate that some were cleared for sharing with allies, while others were designated for U.S. eyes only — suggesting they originated from an American source.

Many of the documents appear to have been prepared for Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, though anyone with a high enough security clearance would have had access to them. It appears the documents in the first tranche of images are likely part of a classified briefing that was folded and removed to somewhere where the pages could be photographed. The New York Times has been able to match up details in the margins of the images with details in photos of the suspected leaker’s family home.

Some of the circulating leaked documents appear to have been doctored but apparently by pro-Russia propagandists after they were leaked.

How did they come out?

Per what has been reported thus far, the leak began months ago in a small Discord community called “Thug Shakers Central,” where the creator of the group began revealing classified intelligence last year. The images of the classified documents began appearing there in mid-January, and then more widely on other Discord servers in March. They then spread to other social media sites in April — at which point they gained the attention of the New York Times and the Pentagon.

Are there more?

It’s not clear if all of the leaked intelligence reports have been shared beyond the original Discord group, but many of them clearly have. The documents revealed thus far seem to have been prepared no later than early March.

What about the doctored documents?

Some of the documents circulated on social media have been doctored — for instance, to reduce the number of estimated Russian casualties in Ukraine and inflate Ukraine’s estimated losses. But that disinformation effort appears to have been made after the documents were leaked.

How has the Pentagon responded to the breach, and what damage could the leak do?

After becoming aware of the leaked documents, the Pentagon launched an investigation and reportedly imposed a strict clampdown on access to U.S. intelligence. Politico reports that Pentagon officials were greatly distressed by the leak, adding that “experts said the disclosure could be even more damaging than the leak by Edward Snowden ten years ago, particularly because the information is so recent.”

That potential damage is manifold. It might have compromised various intelligence-collection methods and sources, allowing adversaries like Russia and China to evade future U.S. espionage efforts. Information in the documents regarding Ukraine’s military weaknesses may also prove valuable to Russia if the country was not previously aware of that information. But the documents also contain numerous assessments based on U.S. signals intelligence (the spy term for intercepted communications) that targeted friends and foes alike. In addition to the diplomatic fallout, this could prompt allies to shore up their defenses against U.S. surveillance. And as Politico national security, reporter Erin Banco points out, “The leak of such highly classified intelligence raises serious questions about whether the U.S. can be trusted to share and disseminate the intel within the government in a safe and secure way.”

President Biden on Thursday seemed to brush off the significance of the breach, explaining that “I’m concerned that it happened but there is nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that is of great consequence.”

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